Ms TIERNEY (Western Victoria) — I move:
That this house notes that —
(1) the Napthine government has cut Victoria’s youth employment scheme at the height of a youth unemployment crisis;
(2) the Minister for Employment and Trade, the Honourable Louise Asher, MP, has admitted that the Napthine government reduced the number of traineeships in the scheme from 450 to 280;
(3) the Napthine government has also slashed the amount of funding from $4500 to $500 per traineeship;
(4) according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Victoria’s youth unemployment level is 20 per cent, the largest on the mainland of Australia;
(5) youth unemployment is even higher in some regional centres of Victoria such as Ballarat and Warrnambool; and
(6) more than 52 000 jobs have been lost in Victoria under the Napthine government;
and condemns the Napthine government for not only failing the youth of Victoria, but also actively making it more difficult for them to gain employment in this state.
Ms Tierney – One of the motivations for moving this motion this morning is the cold, hard facts that have now been presented with respect to unemployment. Some 81 900 young Victorians are now unemployed; 14 000 of these young people qualify as long-term unemployed. That represents a 52 per cent increase in youth unemployment in this state over the last 12 months. That would concern not only those who are on the unemployment queues but also those who are about to join them and the parents of young people in this state.
Victoria now holds the title of the state with the highest level of unemployment in mainland Australia. Sadly, these statistics do not come as a surprise to the people in this state who have been witness to this government’s full frontal assault on opportunities for young people in their efforts to gain the best start in life.
To date, this government has cut more than $1 billion from Victoria’s TAFE system, making it much harder for young people, particularly those in regional Victoria, to access education to help them gain employment.
Our young Victorians want to work, they want to study and they want to get the skills they need to start a long and successful career in their chosen fields, but under this Napthine government, a government that is doing nothing to assist young people, they are not in a position to reach their potential. It is this government that is making their lives much harder.
I will touch on a number of areas that are having a compounding effect on young unemployed people. This is not just a situation that is impacting on young people in Victoria; it is almost a concerted, compounding campaign against young people in this state — to deny them training, to deny them education and to deny them jobs. This government has set about destroying the support networks and organisations that have traditionally been there to support those who are vulnerable.
The motion mentions that the Minister for Employment and Trade, Louise Asher, has admitted that the Napthine government has reduced the number of traineeships available under the Youth Employment Scheme from 450 to 280 and has also seen fit to cut funding from $4500 to $500 per traineeship.
The government has admitted to doing this, and it has done so at the height of the youth unemployment crisis in this state. It would be difficult to think of something so counterproductive if it were not for the fact that the same government also ripped $1 billion from the TAFE system.
When you couple that with the fact that apprenticeships and traineeships have also been under attack, it is beyond belief.
In fact that is what the Auditor-General found in a recent report tabled in this house.
The report found that under this government the number of people commencing apprenticeships and traineeships has failed to increase. Young people who have traditionally benefited from vocational education by obtaining qualifications, skills and employment have been failing to reach their full potential and have not been in a position to properly embark on a lifetime of employment.
The Auditor-General found that this government has failed to increase the number of qualified people being introduced to the workforce. We are informed in no uncertain terms that the completion of this training is essential and that people are more likely to be employed, earn a higher salary and work full time rather than part time if they have completed training. The report also details that among the most common factors influencing the decision by an apprentice or trainee to quit are the lack of support available to them and the low wages.
Rather than assisting our young people to complete their training and receive the obvious benefits that flow, the Napthine government has scrapped the apprenticeship accommodation allowance which has helped young people who have to travel for training.
That is particularly relevant in my electorate and all other country electorates. The Napthine government has also scrapped the apprentice trade bonus which financially supported people at the beginning of their training.
Even more alarmingly, the apprentice/trainee completion bonus is now available only to those who commenced prior to 1 January 2011. This bonus provided a financial incentive for people to finish their training after potentially years of scraping by on very low wages. This situation is also highlighted in the Auditor-General’s report entitled Access to Education for Rural Students, which was recently tabled in this Parliament.
Before I go to that, I indicate to the house that last week I spent quite a bit of time in Portland, Warrnambool and the Moyne shire, and yesterday I also had conversations with a delegation from Ararat.
On all four occasions representatives of those regional areas indicated to me, and I would assume to other politicians regardless of their political make-up, that educational attainment in rural and regional areas is one of the highest priorities for them because it is significantly lower than for their metropolitan cousins.
They now are linking that low educational attainment to what will be a dramatic impact on the local economies of our rural towns and regional centres if it is not arrested shortly.
They are making sure educational attainment for our young people in rural and regional Victoria is sitting at the top of the political checklist or priority list, so that all ears, no matter of what political persuasion, can listen and learn from the fact we need to do something dramatically better than what we have been doing in the past and particularly better than what the Napthine government has been doing in its time in office.
This was reinforced by the Auditor-General, who said in his recent report that he was concerned about the government’s lack of strategic planning around alleviating concerns surrounding education and improving access to education and educational outcomes for rural students.
I also note that the Napthine government’s neglect of the TAFE sector, which is crucial to improving outcomes for rural students, has had a significant impact on the educational opportunities available for rural Victorian school leavers. I must say I have ongoing concerns with the smaller outlying TAFE campuses in rural Victoria.
Whilst things are difficult at the moment, I believe we will become aware in time of a situation that is even worse than what we could possibly imagine and that some of those campuses will find themselves having to close and thus provide even more limited opportunities for our young people in rural and regional Victoria.
Half of Victoria’s public TAFEs are now running deficits, because this government has cut a number of courses. They have also cut jobs, and they have also been forced to raise the fee levels for a whole range of courses. This has all made it very difficult for rural students to access TAFE. Thirty per cent of Victoria’s school population is rural, but a disproportionately lower number of students from rural schools go on to tertiary education. Around 10 per cent of metropolitan students defer further study, but about one-third of rural students defer, and often they defer and do not continue their education, primarily due to the lack of financial support. I argue that this government has clearly failed to provide access to high-quality education and training for all students, and it has neglected the interests of rural students.
Furthermore, the uptake of vocational education and training (VET) has been much slower in rural Victoria. Much of this stems from the Baillieu Liberal government’s cuts to VET funding. The Napthine government has performed poorly in understanding and addressing the barriers to better outcomes for rural students.
This government does not seem to understand the importance of TAFE, especially for rural and regional students. If it did, it simply would not have gone about decimating the Victorian TAFE system. Progress towards completing rural and regional plans has slowed. The project board has not met since last October, and a detailed project plan has yet to be formulated.
These are the very words of the Auditor-General in his report entitled Access to Education for Rural Students.
The Napthine government has failed to address significant issues surrounding access to education for rural students in spite of plans that had been put in place by the Brumby government.
The government did not have to reinvent the wheel; the plan was there, and essentially it needed to get ahead of the game, implement that plan and ensure that our rural and regional students had the opportunity to fully participate in the education system.
While we are at it, The Nationals as a party has just stood by and allowed all of this to take place. We have not heard a whimper from The Nationals representatives in either this house or the other house with respect to what they consider to be their natural constituency.
I really do wonder what they believe is a good thing for rural and regional students in this state when they overwhelmingly sit on their hands in respect of this key issue.
The post-school institutions in the electorate of Western Victoria Region have been hit very hard. In recent times I have visited a number of educational institutions in my electorate, and every one of them is saying that this government has gone too far, that there are no more corners that can be cut.
They are down to the bare bones and are concerned that many of the courses that are needed to support the local economy are not being run. That is significantly impacting on tourism and a range of other employment sectors in the local economy.
For example, at the South West Institute of TAFE the participation rate for 15 to 24-year-old students has reduced by 657 from 2012 to 2013. That is a significant number of young people in a very localised community who are now not participating in a whole range of training qualifications that would better not just themselves but the rest of the community.
At the Gordon Institute of TAFE we have lost 1064 students, which is a dramatic loss in participation. Those figures are from the 2012-13 set of statistics. This drop in participation occurred at the same time as the stripping of approximately $23 million from the Gordon, which amounts to the equivalent of 103 full-time positions. This has had a ripple effect within the Geelong community, which as members would know is already hurting from job losses.
At the very time when we really need a funding injection and a government that understands the problems confronting our local communities, not only do our pleas fall on deaf ears but we also get the announcement of further cuts. At the two main universities operating in western Victoria — Federation University and Deakin University — there have been significant cuts and the abolition of a whole range of courses. Both vice-chancellors at these universities are remarkable; I regard them as at the top of the list of vice-chancellors in this country.
They are both absolute driving forces in ensuring that rural and regional students get the best possible access to education, particularly university education. Jane den Hollander, the vice-chancellor of Deakin University, has undertaken a number of commitments with G21, the Geelong Region Alliance, under the education and training pillar to ensure that the most disadvantaged people in Geelong are afforded a range of opportunities that would not necessarily be afforded to them if not for her interventions.
Whilst these vice-chancellors are doing an astounding job, the necessary resources must also be provided to support those who are really putting in the hard yards to make sure that our rural and regional kids get the best possible opportunities, and that is simply not happening.
I concur with the public comments Jane den Hollander made in recent times about the impact that the increase in tertiary education fees will have not just on numbers but also on the country as a whole and what we can and cannot achieve in respect of the innovation, transition and transformation that are required in this state.
I am quite concerned, to say the least, about what has happened not just in our state budget but also the federal budget. In saying that, I indicate my absolute support for the local learning and employment networks (LLENs), many of which, as a result of state and federal government cuts, will have to close their doors on 31 December.
A few LLENs may be able to continue to operate for a short period of time because of certain partnership relationships they have in place, but the vast majority will be shutting their doors. For those members who are not aware of LLENs, there are around 15 in place at the moment.
The LLENs in my electorate have been very good at orienting MPs in terms of focusing the work they undertake. These LLENs are very concerned that their great work will not be able to continue in the near future because of these funding cuts.
LLENs have a particular focus on young people at risk of disengaging and on those who have already disengaged from education and training and are not in meaningful employment. I worry about what is going to happen to those young people because LLENs not only deal with teenagers in the mid-teenage and later teenage years, they also make interventions at earlier stages on the recommendation of teachers and other people in the sector.
When we on this side were in government we saw many more children start to disengage during the primary school years, so we created a whole new set of innovations in that area to make sure that we did not lose kids so early from the education system. Now all of that is going to go by the bye.
That issue is another sleeper in the system. Unless you are closely associated with LLENs you would not know that is going to occur, but it definitely is. LLENs have tried everything to try to persuade the state and federal governments to change their minds and continue to increase funding in that area, but their pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
The federal government also defunded important youth diversion programs such as Youth Connections.
It is telling that even though both the federal and state Liberal governments are actively making it more difficult for young people to get job, if you are unemployed, you will not be getting government support to help you until you turn 25.
The federal government, like the state government, clearly has no real plan to help young people transition to a job in a stagnant labour market. After three and a half years of the Baillieu and Napthine governments and after just one budget from the federal Liberal government, all Victorians are now fully aware that if you are a young person and there is a Liberal government in power — whether it be at a state or a national level or both — essentially you are on your own.
This morning I have attempted to paint a general picture about the situation faced by young people.
No matter where they turn their options are being cut off and destroyed, whether it is TAFE, training, education at a university or trying to get a job, and that is not to mention those young people who are already disengaged or about to be disengaged from the system.
There is no pathway for young people, and I am concerned not just about their future as individuals but as a generation of youth. It will not be easy to unpick what has happened in the last 12 months; there will be reverberations through the system for a significant time.
Young people who are trying to find a job know adult unemployment levels are high. In places like Geelong we know that job losses have been substantial and that there will be further unemployment in the region.
We know Alcoa is shutting down next month and the shut-down of Ford will occur, so these very young people, without work experience, will be in a jobs market competing against people who have work experience. It is already a very competitive environment for adults who are trying to seek jobs.
I have tried to think about why this government and the Liberal government in Canberra have gone about doing what they have done in relation to options that now are not available to our young people.
Generally societies are judged by how we care for our young, vulnerable citizens, but also by how we make sure that there are the best possible opportunities for youth to engage, learn, be productive, lead healthy lives and interact in respectful relationships.
Opportunities for young people in Victoria have been systematically dismantled. We have had a reduction in training opportunities, a reduction in education opportunities and a reduction in job opportunities.
Not one area in the youth sector has been left untouched. It begs the question: what has this government got against young people? I have pondered this question and have come to the conclusion that what this government has done is unfathomable. It is clearly unjustified and I believe unforgivable.
As I said, the Napthine government’s actions in this area do not just impact on individuals who happen to be young but also impact on a whole generation of youth in every aspect of their daily lives.
Only Labor will expose what is happening, only Labor will stand by young Victorians and only Labor will fight to stop this government’s anti-youth agenda. Only Labor will restore real opportunities which are critical so that young Victorians can grow to lead fruitful lives. Liberal governments are only interested in shutting things down and shutting out young people.
Young Victorians will not be shut up. They will be strong in voicing their needs, and those old enough to vote will also demonstrate their views via the ballot box this year. This morning I call on all members of this chamber to vote in support of this motion. In doing so they will assist in giving voice to the abhorrent unprecedented attacks on young Victorians in this state.